Christianity 201

November 30, 2017

Why Worship This God and Not Another, Or None?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

The new Governor General of our nation, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, recently found herself in a bit of hot water with religious groups. In a speech she expressed concern that that anyone would believe in something other than what you can learn from science. To quote:

“And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”

While people of faith, including myself, may have felt slighted by this, we do well to consider that our Governor General really is expressing a sentiment of many Canadians. Our most recent worship service began with the following words:

1 O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! Psalms 95:1-2 (NRSV)

Many Canadians would respond to this call to worship with “why would we bother to do that? Has not science taught us that God is not necessary?”

The people in the Psalmist’s day would have asked a similar question coming out of the typical worldview of their day: “Why sing to this Lord, and not another? Why not worship the gods of the Babylonians or the Egyptians? After all, those nations seem to be more powerful, so maybe their gods are more powerful! Why not the gods of the Canaanites? The worship in their fertility cult temples sounds like more fun than ours!”

The Psalmist goes on to answer this question, which in turn also helps us answer ours. Why worship this God?

3 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6 O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! Psalms 95:3-6

Worship the Lord, because He is the one true God, the Creator of everything including us. God as revealed in the Bible is quite a different kind of god from all the other gods believed in during those times. Of all the mythologies of those days, no other religion expressed the theology of creation in quite the same way as the Hebrew Scriptures. The theology of God as revealed in the Bible has stood the test of time in a way no other theologies have. Belief in God is still very much with us. Zeus and the rest, not so much. Why? The Judeo-Christian concept of God stands up to philosophical enquiry, historical study, and scientific scrutiny. In fact such investigations even point to Him!

You might ask, “how can science point to God as creator when there is a fight between science and faith?” Let us consider an example (inspired by John Lennox). Consider my favourite motorcycle, a 1939 Triumph Speed Twin. Now consider a motorcycle enthusiast who owns one, and loves to take it apart and put it back together again to see how it all works. Scientists are like the motorcycle enthusiast who studies the motorcycle. Now consider a history buff who collects books about the Triumph Motorcycle Company.  The history buff learns that a man named Edward Turner was the chief designer of the Speed Twin. Theologians are like the history buff who studies Edward Turner, the man behind the motorcycle. Now when scientists say things like “having studied the world and the universe, we are able to explain how things work without reference to God, therefore God does not exist”, it is a bit like the motorcycle enthusiast saying “having studied the motorcycle, I did not find Edward Turner in the crankcase spinning the crankshaft to make the motorcycle go, in fact I can explain how the motorcycle moves without reference to Edward Turner, therefore Edward Turner does not exist”. Scientists say a lot of good things, but they say too much when they say that kind of thing.

Theologians can say too much too of course. Though a history buff will learn about the Speed Twin from history books and biographies on Edward Turner, they will not learn the same kinds of things as someone with the blueprints. Both the scientists and the theologians need to be careful they don’t say too much.

Consider further, that the existence of the Speed Twin as an engineering marvel, and as a work of art, points to a designer. That much is obvious. There are scientists who infer the existence of a Creator God from the engineering excellence and the artistry evident in the universe. This is the theory of Intelligent Design which you can read more about here.

While the existence of design in the universe points to a Designer, why should someone today worship God as understood through Jesus and not some other? The Psalmist helps us answer this question also.  Why worship this God?

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand. Psalm 95:7a

Worship this God because He is the God who has had a relationship with us all along. God’s people in the Psalmist’s day could look back at the records chronicling God’s relationship with them and recognize that God has been walking with them all along. The gods of the other nations were not. God was their shepherd, sometimes protecting, sometimes correcting, but never far away. Likewise, we can look back and see God’s hand in history.

If you are a Christian, suppose for a moment that you are not. You are hardly going to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, or that miracles of the Bible happened. However, even if we do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we should at least recognize that it is a collection of historical records. It is a collection of 66 books, written over 1500 years, by the hand of over 40 different authors from quite different backgrounds. Whether you believe what the authors have to say or not, at the very least you can believe that these are historical records of what they believed to be true. As we study this collection, questions arise. For example, why the incredible unity of thought about God? Why the incredible storyline that runs from beginning to end including creation, fall, promises plus shepherding, redemption, and restoration? Why did a group of Jews claim that Jesus experienced resurrection, and why were they willing to die for that claim? Why has Christianity stood the test of time where other religions have faded away? How has Christianity become the biggest religion in the world, and why does it spread even quicker under persecution? The simplest answer is often the best, and in this case answers every question: Jesus is Risen Lord, God is our maker and has a long history of relationship with humanity.

The Psalmist calls upon the people of his day to worship God and not another, to listen to God’s voice: “O that today you would listen to his voice!” Psalm 95:7b. Why listen to His voice and not another, or none? Because God is the Creator, and humanity has a long, and recorded history with Him. Are we listening?

1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . Hebrews 1:1-3

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon’s writing appears here most Thursdays; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

August 17, 2017

Neither Magic Nor Rocket Science, Ephesians 6:12

by Clarke Dixon

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

You can imagine the first readers of Paul’’s letter becoming excited with these words as many of them would have been new believers who had previously worshiped pagan deities. They had known all along that there were spiritual realities beyond what could be seen, that there were spiritual forces at work, and indeed this had always been a part of their pagan world-view. You can imagine also the ideas creeping back as to what to do about these forces of evil in the heavenly realms. What libations can we pour out? What oracles must be consulted? What offerings must be brought? Tell us, Paul, what to do that we can influence these spiritual forces!? What does Paul come up with?

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:13-18 (NIV)

In other words: Be honest. Be good. Be ready to forgive and make peace, showing others the way to God’s forgiveness and peace. Keep the faith. Trust in God’s power and love. Trust in God’’s Word. Communicate with the Lord. Do we notice how down-to-earth this list of things to do in the face of evil spiritual forces really is? There is no magic to be performed here, no rituals that will protect from evil or influence the spirits as those coming out of pagan religions would be used to. Rather there is the encouragement to be godly, to be becoming more like God. The reference to the armor of God is a reference to His character traits and His resources as the Old Testament references make clear (see post on Ephesians 6:1-20). Tap into that, not magic or ritual.

Sometimes in our attempts to be spiritual today we can unwittingly introduce pagan-style superstition into our faith. My wife once worked at a Christian bookstore not far from an army base, and as preparations were made for a deployment of soldiers, suddenly crosses and Saint Michael medallions became hot sellers. While wearing a cross can serve as a powerful reminder of God’s love, and for Roman Catholics the Saint Michael medal can be a reminder of God’s protection, I have no doubt that there are those that think that actually wearing such increase your chances of being protected. This kind of thing is pure superstition. Sought after items too, were St Joseph statues as some believe you will sell your home faster if you bury the poor fella in your yard. Even better if he is upside down! This too is superstition. Our prayers themselves can also become superstitious. Some think that if we just say the right words, or keep up with some regimen, our prayers are more likely to be answered. Do we do this kind of thing in our communications with our loved ones? Of course not, then why would we with our Lord? When it comes to prayer, He wants to engage with us, not our superstitions.

In Ephesians Paul is encouraging us to be aware of spiritual realities and spiritual forces, but our faith, in both belief and practice, turns out to be a really down-to-earth thing. Let’’s watch out for superstition creeping in.

At this point we need to consider an objection. Some will respond with: ‘Well is not the whole Christian faith one big superstition?’

We do not have the time to go into detail here, but no. Belief that God exists has much to commend itself. Let us not forget the likes of C.S. Lewis who came to Christ, not through a preacher’s appeal like at a Billy Graham crusade, but through thinking about it for a long time. In fact, the Christian faith is tied to a historical, or perhaps we might say “down-to-earth” event, namely the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Look at the beginning of Christianity and you will not find the spreading of a superstition or philosophy or the like, but rather knowledge of a historical event. You will not find the making public of ideas hatched in private. You will find the making more public something that had happened in public, the meaning of which was being worked out in public. (I forget the name of the blogger who should get credit for much of the last two sentences.) Christianity from day one was a very down-to-earth kind of thing; spiritual realities based in historical realities. In fact so ’down-to-earth’ was their faith that the early Christians were accused of spreading atheism since they encouraged skepticism towards all superstitious belief.

This brings us to the other extreme our passage will guard against. If some tend towards believing anything, even that which smacks of the superstitious, there are those who will believe nothing. Our verse is an affirmation that there are “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Some want to believe that there are neither spiritual forces, nor heavenly realms, that all that you can see, is all that there is, or at least all that is worth knowing about.

But is that a good way to look at things? There are many things that can not be seen, but are known. For example, though some may have seen a brain, no one has ever seen a mind. You cannot examine a mind under a microscope. We know the two are connected somehow, but we have no idea how. There are now about eight billion people in the world which works out to about eight million minds. That is eight billion bits of evidence that things exist which cannot be seen. A mind, however, can be experienced. So can God.

Also, history proves that hidden things can become apparent. There is much that could not be seen in the past which we now know about. Many of the things we believe about our planet and universe would not be believed by the ancients as they did not have the same access to such knowledge. Travel back in time and share what you know, and you will be faced with many sceptics. Travel forward in time and you will find realities like judgement and salvation being very much observed and experienced. The Bible gives us a window on truths that have been observed in the past, such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but also a window on truths that can not yet be seen.

The teaching of the Bible is clear: There are spiritual realities around us that we should not expect to see. However, the existence of spiritual forces does not invite us into a world of superstition, but rather deeper into living for Jesus.

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

September 22, 2016

What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

[Editor’s Note: This week’s contribution from Pastor Clarke was a little different from what we normally present here…I would love to have been at his church for this sermon!]

You may be wondering “what’s up with a sermon called ‘What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?’” You can blame this one on one of my sons who over the summer said “hey Dad, you should preach a sermon on the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” If you have never heard of such a thing, be assured many others have, including, of course, my sons.

So what even is it? The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the god of a new religion called “Pastafarianism.” Now to be clear, most “Pastafarians” do not actually believe this religion per se, rather it is practiced as a parody of religion. When you hear that some Pastafarians get their ID pictures taken with colanders on their heads, you may think that it is a big joke. It kind of is, but at the heart of it are some important issues that the atheist community want people to think about. “Belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster all began in the United States with one man challenging a school board to reconsider whether Creationism should be taught alongside Evolution. He was reasoning that if time was given to the story of God creating the universe as found in Genesis, then equal time should be given to his god, “The Flying Spaghetti Monster.” His letter was put on the Internet and it has since become “a thing.”

There are two questions that the The Flying Spaghetti Monster should cause a Christian to grapple with:

  1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?
  2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?

My answer to this may be tainted by the fact that I am Canadian. If a school system is publicly funded, and is made available to all the public, then one particular religious viewpoint should not be privileged over the rest. Many a good Christian will be very disappointed with me right now, but if we Christians were in the minority, and Muslims in the majority, would we want Islamic precepts being taught in our public schools?

However, are we too quick to roll over and play dead? I fear we Canadian Christians often are. There is a field of study that looks at the origins of the universe from no particular religious viewpoint. It is commonly referred to as Intelligent Design (ID for short) and begins not with a religious text, like “In the beginning, God . . . ,” but with the study of our world and the universe. It looks at the apparent elements of design in the universe and infers that behind the design is a Designer. The illustration is sometimes used of flying an airplane over an island and finding the letters “SOS” written in sand. You know someone is, or has been, there based on three letters. Then go on to consider the amazing amount of information stored in DNA. Or how amazing it is that so many things have to be “just so” for life to be possible. Such evidence of design begs for a Designer.

Some think that the more we learn about the universe from science, the less we need any notion of a god to explain things. God has been moved to the margins it has been said. However, this would be like someone taking apart an iPhone and in figuring out how the parts and software work together, saying “there is and never has been a Steve Jobs or Johnny Ive. We don’t see them present with us making this thing work.” You see the misstep. As John Lennox has pointed out, God is not a “God-of-the-gaps” God, that is, the explanation of the things we cannot understand, but rather is the “God of the whole show.” If an iPhone is an incredible achievement in design and engineering, the universe is infinitely more so. As the Psalmist writes:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Should ID be taught in schools alongside Evolution? After all, some would point out, perhaps correctly, that it is not science strictly speaking. It wanders into the realm of philosophy. Whatever it is, it is good, clear thinking. Schools should be places of good, clear thinking.

But does ID get you to Jesus? Or to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that matter? This brings us to our second question.

fsm2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

This is an insinuation of those who practice Pastafarianism, namely that belief in Jesus, or in any god for that matter, is as ridiculous as believing in something like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So is it?

Here we look to the where the evidence leads, particularly with respect to the origins of each religion. For example, if you were to investigate the origins of “belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the evidence would lead to knowing exactly when, where, and even why the whole thing started. You can easily account for the birth and development of Pastafarianism without needing the actual existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to account for it. It is clearly a people made religion. You can go on to apply this same inquiry of all religions, asking “how did they begin and develop, and can you account for such things without the existence of the god they point to?” This all works very well until you come to Christianity. I am only scratching the surface here, but birth and development of Christianity falls nicely into place if Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then it is hard to account for why the first Christians believed what they believed, did what they did, and wrote what they wrote. N.T. Wright is one of the best scholars to look up to learn more about this.

If you are looking for a more accessible read you could look up the writings of an expert in evidence by the name of J. Warner Wallace. He was a cold-case detective and an atheist, who upon reading the Gospels came to realize that what he was reading bore the marks of genuine eyewitness testimony. I am only scratching the surface, but he gives us pointers on handling the evidence, some of which are paraphrased poorly by me below, but told in better detail himself. Consider:

  • The variations between the Gospels are evidence of genuine witnesses being behind them. Detectives get suspicious of collusion when witnesses all end up saying the exact same things in the exact same way.
  • The case for the reality of Jesus and the truth for Christianity is a cumulative case, built upon many bits of evidence.
  • While there is no direct evidence for Jesus available to us today, circumstantial evidence is enough to establish truth. All convictions of cold cases are built on circumstantial evidence.
  • Evidence does not need to get you beyond every possible doubt for a conviction, but beyond every reasonable doubt. Some people hold the bar far too high when it comes to Jesus so that no amount of evidence would ever be enough.
  • Not every question that is raised in a case needs to be answered. Belief in Jesus as Lord is reasonable, even when questions linger.
  • Unbiased jurors make the best jurors. That is why there is a process of jury selection, to weed out those who would begin with prejudice and bias. Some people will never believe Jesus rose from the dead because they start with a bias against the possibility of any miracle.

The evidence points to the unreality of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the reality of Jesus. Evidence is spoken of in the Bible:

This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
this was attested at the right time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (emphasis mine)

The word for “attested” is a word meaning “evidence, proof, testimony.” That there is one God, and that Jesus is how we can know God has been “attested to,” or “evidenced.” Jesus is the greatest proof of Who the Designer is, and the greatest evidence of His love for us. Which brings us to our conclusion.

The evidence points to what seems too good to be true. If the evidence pointed to atheism being true, that would be a depressing thing. If the evidence pointed to Islam being true, that could be a scary thing. If the evidence pointed to Eastern religions being true with their focus on karma, that would be an unfortunate thing. But the evidence points to the resurrection of Jesus, the reality of God, and the reality of God’s grace and love for the sinner. That is the best possible place for the evidence to lead. It seems too good to be true! Yet that is where the evidence points. So instead of asking “what’s up with the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” we should instead be asking “what’s up with God loving us so much?”

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read more of Clarke’s writing at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

November 18, 2015

A Funny Thing Did Not Happen on the Way to Worship an Idol

by Clarke Dixon
•••click here to read at source

All religions are equal, right? Some say that they are equally bad, but many claim that they are all equally good. They all lead to the same morals. They all deserve respect. To say otherwise you will risk being labelled as intolerant. The prevailing mood of accommodation of all religions indiscriminately is a far cry from what God called his people to in Deuteronomy 12:

When the Lord your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, “How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.” Deuteronomy 12:29-30

For those who think all religions promote the same moral values, the next verse is very important:

You must not do the same for the Lord your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Deuteronomy 12:31

As God’s people prepare to enter the Promised Land they are warned that messing around with Canaan’s god’s would make a real mess of things. God had given the law to His people as a gift of grace, as a set of ethics that would lead the obedient to be a light in a dark world. Idolatry would cause God’s people to plunge into darkness themselves. Our twenty-first century living blinds us to some of the atrocious things that happened in the name of religion in the ancient world including child sacrifice. The Law given to God’s people pointed to a better way. In leading God’s people away from God, idolatry would lead people away from God’s best for them; the godly, good, and wise way of life. Clearly, not all religions are equal and we should be grateful that many immoral religions have faded into obscurity.

Idolatry still leads people away from God’s best. Remembering that idolatry is loving anyone or anything more than God, consider the idolatry of Adolf Hitler who loved Social Darwinism more than God. Social Darwinism is what happens when you apply the principles of Darwinism, namely the survival of, or “natural selection” of, the strong to a society. Evolution demands that the “weak”, like the Jews according to some, really ought to be eliminated. Hitler was not a crazy man, but a quite intelligent man who was unfortunately informed more by his idolatry than by God’s way. Had Hitler been influenced by the very people he sought to destroy he would have realized the implications of all humanity created in the image of God and history books would now tell a very different story.

Another example of idolatry leading people away from God’s best for them can be readily seen in ISIS. ISIS has a morality problem. ISIS seeks to build a religious state, a caliphate, through violence. Islam has a fundamentalist problem. When people who call themselves Christian turn to violence in the name of Christianity, we point them back to Jesus and the call to emulate him in the way of the cross. When people turn to a violent expression of Islam, the moderate Muslim has trouble calling them to emulate Mohammed. They are convinced they already are. When a Christian wants to create a Christian state, we point them to the teaching of Jesus who said “Go therefore and make disciples,” and not “Go therefore and make a Christian nation.” When a militant Muslim wants to support the creation of a religious state, a caliphate, the moderate Muslim has trouble sending them back to the teaching and example of Mohammed. They are convinced they have already gone there. Islam is idolatry that is keeping people away from God’s best for them. As a Christian I am called to love the Muslim. I am not called to like Islam.

But someone may object that the very passage from Deuteronomy we began with has God’s people creating a religious state though violence. That is a very good objection and one which demands a response. First, consider that God was establishing a nation for the purpose of keeping his promise of blessings for all nations (Genesis 12:1-13). Second, consider that those times and places were very different from our own, being more like the tribalism that we have seen in places like Rwanda, than like the nation states we are comfortably used to. Third, consider that the inhabitants of Canaan were ripe for God’s judgement. They were no better than the people who experienced the flood in Noah’s day. Fourth, consider that this was a one time event. The command to take Canaan was not a command to be dusted off whenever God’s people feel like taking territory. Yes, we do have in Deuteronomy a people called to create a religious state and yes, violence was to be involved. But this was one step, a necessary step, on the journey to the cross where God Himself would suffer violence to bring salvation to sinful people. This was one step on a long road to blessing.

So which should we be following today? The prevailing mood validating all religions as equal, or the Biblical call to religious purity and evangelism of people we see as lost? In leading people away from God, idolatry leads people away from God’s best for them. That includes the godly ethics he longs for people to enjoy. But there is more; idolatry leads people away from God’s very best for them in leading them away from his salvation. Idols can never rescue us from the effects of sin. Jesus does. Atheism does not rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Islam can not rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Hinduism, Buddhism, and everyotherism cannot rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Even the Christian religion, when it is just religion for the sake of religiosity does not rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Jesus said  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

We can and should affirm religious pluralism in our nation, to a point. A religion that demands something like child sacrifice would be clearly very far from Canadian values. So religious freedom does have its limits. But as Jesus followers we are called to religious purity. Are we not to respect the religions and world-views of other people then? As followers of Jesus we recognize these views for what they are: idolatry which leads people away from God’s best. How can we respect that? But as for the people who hold these views, who follow these idols, we are to go far beyond respect, to love. And if we love them, we will want them to know Jesus, His way of life, His way of salvation. We will want want them to experience the very best He has for them.

All scripture references are from the NRSV


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada; and as we learned this week, a very competent musician.

August 19, 2015

The Source of Wisdom

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

wisdomDesiring Wisdom? Desire God

by Clarke Dixon

There has never been a time of greater access to information. We have so much information, knowledge, and opportunities for education in our society today and yet sometimes people seem to make the craziest choices!  Just having access to information does not ensure that we will use the information to make good decisions. Recently I discovered that a major Christian website has deleted the comments sections from its blogs. Why? I suspect it is because some people say the dumbest things in the dumbest ways and the editors could not keep up. People comment without wisdom, just as people often speak and act without wisdom. We need more than information to make good choices. We need wisdom.

Solomon was known for his wisdom. In 1 Kings 3:1-15 we learn about how Solomon came to be wise. Solomon had recently become the king in place of his father David, and God told him to ask for one thing. Solomon asks for wisdom.  There are six things there we can learn from his request in our quest to speak and act with wisdom:

First, in seeking to be wise Solomon acknowledges God.

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 1 Kings 3:5-6

Notice that Solomon does not immediately shout out his request. I think many of us would have done just that. Instead Solomon takes the time to recognize who God is and what God has done. Notice also that Solomon does not focus on his father David. Yes, David is mentioned, but it is God who is reason David did so well as king. God is the focus. If we want to make wise decisions we would do well by starting off with an acknowledgement of, and focus upon, God. This is one reason why weekly worship with other believers is so important.

Second, in seeking to be wise Solomon becomes humble.

And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 1 Kings 3:7

Notice again Solomon still has not rushed into his request. Before he does he acknowledges who he himself is, and what he is like. There is something about acknowledging God that inspires confession and humility in us. Many people do and say the dumbest things because they think they know everything already, therefore everything they speak and do must be good. They do not have teachable spirit. We will not speak and act with wisdom if we do not learn to say “I have much to learn.”

Third, in seeking to be wise Solomon recognizes the importance of his calling.

And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 1 Kings 3:8

Notice that Solomon still has not made his request yet. Before he does Solomon realizes the gravity of the situation. He is now responsible for many, many people. Not only that, but they are the people God has chosen, they are “your great people” v.9. Solomon understands that his role is very, very important. I wonder if people say and do the dumbest things because they do not realize that what they say or do is important. We can carry around the attitude that “it doesn’t really matter”, or “I am of no significance, I don’t really matter, so what I say or do is of little significance and does not really matter.” Every Christian person has a calling from God. Wisdom becomes a greater priority for us when we understand the importance of God’s call upon us.

Fourth, in seeking to be wise Solomon knows the importance of listening.

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people . . . 1 Kings 3:9a

Now Solomon finally gets to his request. I often go over the passage I preach on in the original languages, but please don’t think of me more highly than you ought for I am not a master of the Hebrew and Greek languages, I am a student. Being such I was amazed when in verse 9 I did not come across the Hebrew words I was expecting, words for “wisdom.” There instead was the word for listening. It reads something like “give your servant a listening heart.” This also rings through the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. But it does not ring through the English translations. We can have great trust in the English translations, but I wonder if something has been lost here. When we have the idea of listening, the obvious question becomes, “to whom are we listening?” Given that we have already seen Solomon acknowledge God, express humility, and recognize the importance of leading, not his own people, but God’s, it is clear that Solomon is asking for a heart that listens to and is obedient toward God. We can do and say the dumbest things because we are not listening to God.

Fifth, in seeking to be wise Solomon understands the importance of knowing the difference between right and wrong.

. . . able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people? 1 Kings 3:9b

Have you noticed that in educational situations in today’s society right and wrong, good and evil are barely talked about? The reason is obvious. If good and evil are real, then so is God. So instead we are given information and then asked to discern the best choice. Do you see the danger in this? The astute student (and they all are), figures out, even if only in the back of his or her mind, that while some choices may not be the best, they are still permissible. And so why not if it looks like fun? Christianity moves beyond a discussion of best choices, to right and wrong choices, good and evil choices. Many dumb decisions could be avoided if we knew the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. Solomon knew that.

Sixth, in seeking to be wise Solomon will need to remain committed to God.

Next follow three verses where God expresses his delight in Solomon’s request, and His desire to grant that request and more. But it will not always be automatic, there is a big “if”:

If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life. 1 Kings 3:14

Notice the emphasis on God’s ways, God’s statutes, and God’s commandments. These are not the ways, statutes, and commandments of the king, but of the King of kings. Solomon gets off to a great start, but there are already hints in the opening verses of 1 Kings 3 that Solomon will not always be wise. Indeed he does not listen to the wisdom of God concerning marriage as defined in Genesis 2:24. His many wives and concubines end up being his undoing. Somewhere along the line Solomon’s commitment to following God waned and he started doing dumb things. How is your commitment?

To conclude let us summarize: If you desire wisdom, desire God. 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.
Psalms 111:10 

One final, but important thought: The most wise decision a person could make is to become a follower of Jesus. Some think that following Jesus and becoming a Christian is a stupid thing to do. But again we go back to acknowledging God, being humble, realizing the importance of His call, realizing the reality and implications of good and evil, and making a lifetime commitment. Some just don’t want to do that. But many of us find that following Jesus is the best and most worthwhile decision we have ever, and could ever make.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:1

All Bible references are taken from the NRSV


Regular Wednesday contributor Clarke Dixon @clarkedixon is a pastor in Canada and blogs at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

July 5, 2015

Blessed Are…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3)

Here are two different takes on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. If you are not familiar with the full text, or wish to do some comparison, click here.

Author and theologian Monika Hellwig gives us the following:

  1. The poor in spirit know they are in need and can’t help themselves.
  2. The poor in spirit know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people but also their interdependence with others.
  3. The poor in spirit rest their security not on things but on people.
  4. The poor in spirit have no exaggerated sense of their own importance and no exaggerated need of privacy.
  5. The poor in spirit are less interested in competition and more interested in cooperation.
  6. The poor in spirit instinctively appreciate family, love and relationships over things.
  7. The poor in spirit can wait, because they have learned patience.
  8. The fears of the poor in spirit are more realistic and exaggerate less, because they already know they can survive great suffering and want.
  9. When the poor in spirit have the gospel preached to them, it sounds like good news and not like a threatening or scolding.
  10. The poor in spirit can respond to the call of the gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything.

~found in files; original source unknown; one blog notes a citation in The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey.

The Beatitude Creed:

I believe that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of Heaven.
I believe there will be comfort for those who mourn.
I believe that being meek is a good thing and that those who give everything will inherit the earth.
I believe that those whose heart is set on seeking righteousness will find it.
I believe the merciful will receive more than they think they deserve.
I believe the pure in heart will be blessed and will see God.
I believe that those who long for peace and do more than others think is safe are children of the living God.
I believe in a place of safety for those who are hurt for trying to do the right thing.

I believe that being poor, and ignored and weak, and sick and tired and broken and messed up and kicked around is not as spiritually dangerous as being self-satisfied and clever and well-clothed and well-fed and degreed and creed-ed and important.

~posted July 17th, 2008 at A Life Reviewed blog – Joe and Heather live in Coventry in the English West Midlands

June 21, 2015

Remembering God Without Making Idols

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5aYou shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…

It’s interesting that as God was giving these commandments to Moses, the people at the bottom of the mountain were building a calf out of gold. They were immediately in violation of the text above…

For almost all Evangelicals and most Mainline Protestant, the Second Commandment is explicit in its prohibition against idols. The King James used the phrase “graven images” by which some interpret “engraved” or three-dimensional objects; though in the early days of printing, photographic plates were engraved.

We have no problem with Bible story books which picture Jesus — some recent ones using a rather cartoonish style of illustration — but the Jesus doll we recently saw in a Christian bookstore (for $50 US) would clearly cross the line for many people (and for a number of reasons.)

On the other hand, our friends in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have no problem with statuary, their houses of worship are filled with them, as are many of their homes. (The Catholic Church’s catechism even ‘rearranges’ the Ten Commandments to exclude the second one altogether, balancing things out with a split of the command regarding coveting into numbers 9 and 10; though Catholic Bibles themselves do not so tamper with the text.)

This doesn’t mean that are not other physical means whereby we’re encouraged to remember.

  1. The Jews were told to “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deut 11:18) Then, two verses later, “Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (:20) In the most literal form, this gave way to phylacteries, the small boxes containing small scrolls worn on the forehead of Jews while praying. In a less literal form, most of us have plaques with Bible verses on the walls or end tables of our homes.
  2. There are certain locations that help us remember when God met us there or somewhere nearby. In the story of Jesus and “the woman at the well,” there is mention that this is Jacob’s well, and all the significance that entails. A girl whose testimony we heard talked about driving through northern Ontario and recognizing the terrain as nearby a camp where she felt close to God as a much younger person, and she pulled her car over to the side of the road and prayed. Is there a special physical location where you have memories of meeting with God?
  3. There are times where God instructed his people to construct a memorial. Joshua 4:9 reads, “Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.” While many Christian facilities have plaques that honor the donors who gave money toward the building of that place, others, either with a plaque or through the naming of the facility, honor a particular part of a Bible story. The Christian conference grounds I attended as a child was named Elim Lodge, after a reference in Exodus 15.
  4. We learn the ways of God chiefly through narrative. You don’t sit your young children down and teach them the doctrines of systematic theology, but rather, you tell them stories from both the First and Second Testament. We can represent those physically by having artist renderings of Jesus walking on the water in our homes. Some of you have children who had Noah’s Ark bedsheets. While I like the first idea better than the second, these all reinforce the stories.
  5. Speaking of Noah, sometimes God just likes to give us reminders. We all know the scientific reasons why rainbows appear after a rainstorm, but God imputes significance to this by telling Noah to accept it as a pledge that he will never flood the earth again. (But maybe the rainbow was supernatural; it rained for 40 days, but then there’s a year between the rain stopping and Noah being given the rainbow as a sign.)

These are all examples of tangible objects which serve as reminders of God, Jesus, Bible stories, and places where God revealed himself.

So we don’t need statuary, and the Bible’s commandments are not to be trifled with. It’s true that contextually idols were the trademark of other surrounding nations, but I believe that the commands are 100% applicable to the idea of making statues of those who have been conferred sainthood, and certainly could be applicable to statues of Jesus himself.

I will concede however, that there are sculptors who have carved three-dimensional works that are simply an extension of the two-dimensional images mentioned in point #4 above. An example would be the Good Shepherd statue at the former Crystal Cathedral, which reminds us of the picture Jesus paints of himself in John’s Gospel. However, the danger comes when we worship those pieces, or suggest that the sculptures themselves have some supernatural abilities or powers.

I also realize this is a very limited interpretation of Exodus 20:4 which seems to ban any image of any created thing. But here, the context is concerning the things which come between us and God; the first four commandments are about not allowing anything to stand in the way of our relationship with God. This is in line with Romans 1:25, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…”

Summing this up, you can’t read the Second Commandment without knowing the First Commandment. Nothing is to come between us and God.

 

 

May 25, 2015

When Love Output Exceeds Love Input

Matt. 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

We make a point to try to revisit writers who have appeared here before. Such is the case with Mark McIntyre at the blog Attempts at Honesty. To read this at source, click the title below.

water pumpLove, duty and honor

When a pump tries to put out more water than it takes in, it experiences a condition called cavitation. The end result is that the internal turbulence caused by the cavitation tears up the pump and eventually renders the pump useless. The pump only works well when it takes in as much as it tries to put out.

I find a cavitating pump a fitting metaphor for what I’ve observed in churches over the years. The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:19 that we love because God loved us first. John also tells us in John 13:35 that love is to be the distinguishing mark of the church. Jesus himself told us that the two great commands are to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40).

We are commanded to love, but the source of that love must be God himself. I have firsthand experience of what happens when the church tries to convey love without relying on God as the source of that love.

Without reliance upon God as the source of love, the church (and the individuals that make up the church) tends to replace love with duty or honor. Duty is a sense of responsibility to others. Honor is an attempt at maintaining a reputation. One is focused outward the other is focused inward.

Both duty and honor are good things in themselves. There is nothing wrong with having a proper sense of responsibility to our fellow man. I see the connection between duty and fulfillment of the second command to love your neighbor. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to have a good reputation. One of the qualifications that the Apostle Paul gives us for a church leader is that he is to be a man of good reputation (1 Timothy 3:2).

The problem is that even these good things are no substitute for experiencing and conveying the love that God has for us. Duty without love becomes a hard, unyielding taskmaster. How many times have I seen people “serving” in church with little joy and even less fruit? Duty without love produces zombie Christians who lurch around but are not fully alive.

Honor without love becomes narcissistic or forces one into very superficial relationships. I cannot let you too near to me if I want to maintain the illusion that I have everything under control. Therein lies the pressure to be superficial. The narcissistic tendency manifests itself in the “look at me” aspect that rears it’s head in churches. People want to be seen “doing ministry” and get hooked on the affirmation that it provides. The smiling face may hide an ugly heart.

Perhaps we all have an inclination toward these false foundations. But I find that when I am properly connected with the love of God, I want to serve those around me because I want them to experience the same sense of God that I have. When I am properly connected with the love of God, I don’t have to worry about my reputation. If I am following God, my reputation will take care of itself. Also, if I am experiencing the love of God, I don’t have to worry that you will see my failures and weaknesses. God knows all about my failures and loves me anyway.

As with the cavitating pump, failure to allow the love of God to be the driving force and the content of our message will cause a life to eventually fall apart. If you have any doubts about this, I point you toward the most chilling words that Jesus ever uttered in Matthew 7:21-23. In this passage Jesus tells us that many who worked for duty and honor will not find entry into Heaven. It is only those who have been in relationship with him and have experienced his love and forgiveness will gain entry.

The stakes are very, very high.

 

December 10, 2014

People Searching for Peace with God

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Regular columnist Rev. Clarke Dixon is back again this week with something appropriate as we move into the Christmas season. Click the image below to read this at source; there’s also a puppet skit on the site to go with it!

Finding Peace with God. Can Religion Help?

E5166E42-5B09-4592-9013-42F666B12C92People often look for a sense of peace by pursuing religion. There is a sense of peace that can be obtained through a perceived connection with transcendence. In other words, you feel connected to something much bigger than yourself, and so someone or something, good hopefully, is in charge. Also, religion satisfies the craving that we seem to have for “cosmic justice.” Whether through karma following the evil throughout history, or a judgement of the wicked at the end, religion helps restore our sense that justice will be served. And so we can make some sense of suffering and gain a sense of peace. Therefore that people pursue religion is very natural. But does it work? While religion can bring us a sense of peace, can religion bring us real peace with God?

The answer is hinted at in the events of Christmas. Consider the religious leaders of the day and their participation at the manger scene. Were the priests invited to see baby Jesus, or did they take the initiative to go and see? No. Were the pharisees invited to see baby Jesus, or did they take the initiative to go? No. And the scribes? Again, no. When God sent His angels to issue an invite to come see the newborn king, none of the religious types were invited, but instead shepherds! The shepherds likely would not have been welcome in the Temple because their work with animals would make them “unclean,” but they were welcomed into the presence of Emmanuel, “God With Us.” And the magi took the initiative to go and see. Admittedly, the Bible does not explicitly place them at the manger and they may have shown up quite a bit later. Regardless, they were not even of the right religion! Right from the get go we have a sense that Jesus is not going to be about religion. He is going to be about God reaching people, all kinds of people.

If the Christmas story hints at religion being incapable of ushering us into the presence and peace of God, then the Bible explicitly states it elsewhere: “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NRSV). There is much religion and many religious rites presented in the Bible, but they are not an end in themselves. Instead it all points beyond itself to God and the fact that the sin-caused gulf which exists between God and humanity is real and a real problem. But religion can never get us right with God, and so can never really give us assurance of peace with God. You get the sense that no matter how much religion you do, it is never enough: “And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11 NRSV).

How then can peace with God be found?

Let’s take our focus from the manger to the cross: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’” (Hebrews 10:12 NRSV). Notice the contrast between the priest who must continue standing for his work is never done, and Jesus who sits down because His work is accomplished. One is reminded of Jesus’ words on the cross: “It is finished.” It is through Jesus that our sins are atoned for and dealt with. It is through Jesus that justice is fully served and love is fully expressed. Religion does not bring us peace with God. God brings us peace with God.

Clarke Dixon C201Now many say things like “all religions are different paths that lead to God.” This expression does not work well because the different religions have different ideas of who God is in the first place. Some religions don’t even have a concept of God. And the expression does not work well for Christianity, for we do not see the Christian life as a journey that leads to meeting God at the destination. We are in the presence of God now! We do not live good and holy lives along the way so that we can some day be with God. We live good and holy lives because His love and His presence drives us to repentance. We live in His presence day by day, He is with us for the journey: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NRSV)

You are invited! Just as the shepherds were invited to meet the King of kings and Lord of lords, so are you. Not through religion, but through His grace.

19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Heb 10:19-22

(The full and rather long sermon can be heard at http://goo.gl/SFiSkp)

Photo is of a manger scene my Dad painted which now sits outside of our home.

August 17, 2014

Deceivers Can Be Deceptive

 

I Timothy 4:1 (NIV)

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 

At first glance this appears to be one of several verses discussing rising apostasy (falling away) in the last days. We can read this verse on that basis and clearly understand its main point.

But there’s something else going on here in the phrase “taught by demons.”

When we think of demons, we often think of movie images of slimy creatures in dank sewers with horrific sounding voices and threatening words.

When we think of teaching, we think of well-dressed men and women in well-lit classrooms speaking perfectly in clear voices all contained within the realm of the academic life of high schools or colleges or universities, or even seminaries.

We know that some teachers can be deceived, or misguided, or badly informed, but we ought to see the phrase “taught by demons” as somewhat oxymoronic. (“He’s on a Christian TV station and he’s wearing a tie; he must be trustworthy.”)

Nonetheless, The Enemy of our souls can appear quite respectable. II Timothy 3 (NKJV) states:

1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come…   having a form of godliness but denying its power.

It speaks of very self-centered people who, as The Message Bible puts it, “make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals.

II Cor. 11:13-15 (NLT) reminds us that Satan himself can appear on your doorstep appearing perfectly honorable, even supernaturally honorable:

These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…

Just because someone has what appears to be ‘a teaching ministry’ does not mean you should turn off your discernment filters. You need to always be on the lookout because deception is…well…so deceptive.

Similarly, the Bible describes a situation where Jesus might be said to using his discernment filters in reference to humankind. I like how the [Old] Living Bible handles verse 25 in John 2:23-25; although it amplifies one particular phrase in ways the other translations do not, it really gets the point across:

23-25 Because of the miracles he did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many people were convinced that he was indeed the Messiah.   But Jesus didn’t trust them, for he knew mankind to the core. No one needed to tell him how changeable human nature is!

If human nature is that changeable, it means that even within the context of respectable Bible teaching an individual could be led astray and their core message change from truth to deception.

Don’t let appearances fool you.

August 30, 2013

Christianity Isn’t Afraid of Questions

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NIV Ecc.  12:9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.

Today’s reading comes from The Catch, the blog of author and musician John Fischer, where it appeared originally under the title The improbable Truth.  John ends with a quote from The Message Bible where “the teacher” is translated as “the quester.”  Christianity isn’t afraid of questions.

question-markHas it ever made anyone curious why the Bible questions its own answers? Take the book of Ecclesiastes, for instance — twelve chapters dedicated to the propagation of the meaninglessness of life. And this is not just the author having a bad hair day. This is an investment of a wise king’s entire life seeking the meaning of his existence. Every attempt to answer the big question is meticulously pursued, and with all the resources to make it legitimate. If Solomon wanted to pursue wealth, he had wealth to exceed the richest kings at the time. If he wanted to pursue pleasure, he had thousands of concubines at his bidding. And in his pursuit of wisdom, his wisdom was unparalleled in human history.

King Solomon was no armchair philosopher. He had the opportunity to try out each one of his solutions, and every time he came up with the same conclusion: “Meaningless, meaningless… Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). And even when he does concede, in the end, that the only reasonable thing to do is to fear God and keep His commandments, it’s not like he’s ready to celebrate this final discovery (Ecclesiastes 12:13). In fact, it reads like a resignation. You finish this book and you want to go, “When’s the next Tony Robbins seminar? I need some cheering up!”

Actually, the fact that Ecclesiastes is in the Bible does two things for me. First, it gives me confidence that the rest of the Bible is true. If Christianity were a construct of the human mind, you wouldn’t find this stuff in its portfolio, that’s for sure. What propaganda features differing views? Who includes the opposing arguments in their literature, and even makes them look good? And yet the Bible declares life meaningless, it shows bad people having a good time and good people having a miserable time. The hero of the whole book dies a brutal death in the end, for heaven’s sake, and then He calls His followers to come and die with Him! Well, whoopee! Where do I sign up? I’m sorry, but to all those who say someone made up Christianity, I have to say, based on what? Certainly nothing I know of in human nature.

Secondly, it makes me look more deeply into things. Maybe the reason following Christ doesn’t magically make this life a party is because there is something more than this life to consider. And maybe Solomon was so old and spent by the time he finally got to it that he couldn’t really enjoy what was enjoyable about what he found. And maybe, just maybe, the reason God put his story there was for us to benefit from his life’s search, take his word for it, and start living where he left off.
_______________________

Besides being wise himself, the Quester also taught others knowledge. He weighed, examined, and arranged many proverbs. The Quester did his best to find the right words and write the plain truth.

The words of the wise prod us to live well. They’re like nails hammered home, holding life together. They are given by God, the one Shepherd.

But regarding anything beyond this, dear friend, go easy. There’s no end to the publishing of books, and constant study wears you out so you’re no good for anything else. The last and final word is this:

Fear God.
Do what he tells you.

Ecclesiastes 12:9-13 (The Message)

August 18, 2013

Ritual versus Faithfulness

I Cor 4:2 ESV Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

The Henderson Family very rarely misses a church service, church meeting, or church function. They are what a previous generation called “pillars of the assembly;” people you can count on to be there and to do whatever needs doing in the church. A check of Mrs. H.’s pocket calendar shows a church event or responsibility consuming much of 17 of this month’s 31 days.

Some would say they are being faithful, while others would prefer to think they are in some kind of religious bondage. They could certainly use a copy of the book Boundaries, because saying ‘no’ isn’t in their vocabulary. How do you tell the difference between people who joyfully make the church the center of their lives, and people who serve under duress?

II Cor. 9:7a NIV Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion…

The Bible distinguishes between service and giving which are done joyfully and cheerfully versus that which is done under a sense of obligation.

I thought of this a lot in the last 48 hours when it appeared that I would not be able to post a devotional reading here for yesterday, August 17th. I tried to get online using a rather primitive smart-phone, but it wasn’t to be, as the limitations of the phone met the very limited internet access in the remote area where we were.

‘But I haven’t missed a day here in years,’ I thought to myself. Ah, there’s a religious spirit creeping in. The feeling that I must do this; compounded with the feeling of If you don’t _________ it won’t ________. Not a good place to be in. Instead of God being the center, I become the center. It also shows a misplaced appropriation of my place in the building of God’s Kingdom; a rather self-centered, egotistical sense of my own importance.

In fact, scripture describes ministry as more of a symphony concert than a solo recital:

I Cor. 3:6,7 Message Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.

And then, the worst thought of all, where faulty attitude becomes outright sin: I considered backdating a post to yesterday once I got back online. It wasn’t so much trying to create a false impression of my faithfulness to this, as it was the feeling a curator of a set or collection must have if one of the items is missing. I must restore the museum/gallery to its pristine state. That’s pride.

Matthew 6:1 The Voice Jesus: But when you do these righteous acts, do not do them in front of spectators. Don’t do them where you can be seen, let alone lauded, by others. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Amazing how writing a daily devotional blog can cause to sin, isn’t it? So what would you tell the Henderson family? What would you tell me?

August 7, 2013

The Truth About Religion

In February of 2012, we introduced you to E. Stanley Jones:

Eli Stanley Jones (1884–1973) was a 20th century Methodist Christian missionary and theologian. He is remembered chiefly for his interreligious lectures to the educated classes in India, thousands of which were held across the Indian subcontinent during the first decades of the 20th century. According to his and other contemporary reports, his friendship for the cause of Indian self-determination allowed him to become friends with leaders of the up-and-coming Indian National Congress party. He spent much time with Mahatma Gandhi, and the Nehru family. Gandhi challenged Jones and, through Jones’ writing, the thousands of Western missionaries working there during the last decades of the British Raj, to include greater respect for the mindset and strengths of the Indian character in their work.

This effort to contextualize Christianity for India was the subject of his seminal work, The Christ of the Indian Road, which sold more than 1 million copies worldwide after its publication in 1925.

He is sometimes considered the “Billy Graham of India”.

continue reading the Wikipedia entry here

You can read that entry of quotations by Jones at this link.

Today we bring you two excepts from a devotional collection of his writing, Victorious Living edited for modern English by Dean Merrill (Summerside Press).

Why Are We Religious?

Romans 8:19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[a] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

There are a hundred and fifty or more definitions of religion.  One says it is “what we do with our solitariness”; another that it is “how we integrate ourselves socially”; another that “the root of religion is fear,” and so on.

The reason it is so difficult to define is that life itself is difficult to define.  When we define religion in terms of its various manifestations, we get partial, sometimes contradictory, definitions.  But religion, having many forms, has only one root. That root is the urge after life, fuller life.  In everything, from the lowest cell clear up to the highest person, there is an urge toward completion.

Religion is the urge for life turned qualitative.  It is not satisfied with life apart from quality.  The urge for quantitative life reached its crest in the dinosaurs.  That failed – it was a road with a dead end.  The huge animals died.  In human beings, the life urge turns from being merely big to being better.

We are religious, then, because we cannot help it.  We want to live in the highest, fullest sense, and that qualitative expression of life is called religion.  So religion is not a cloak we can put on or off; it is identified with life itself.  We are all incurably religious.  Even the Communists1, though repudiating religion, are deeply religious.  The want a better social order.  They may be right or wrong in their method of getting it, but the very desire for a better social order is religious.  For religion is a cry for life.

1 When Jones wrote this in 1936, Stalin was in power and Soviet Communism was still in its adolescence.

The Divine Initiative

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The other side of the truth about religion is that we seem to be pressed upon from above.  We do not merely aspire, we are inspired. We feel we are being invaded by the Higher.  This pressure from above awakens us, makes us discontent, makes us pray – sometimes with unwordable longings.

This is the divine initiative – the cosmic Lover wooing His creation to Himself and therefore to its own perfection.

Friedrich von Hugel, the Catholic theologian, speaks of this double movement in religion as the going up of one elevator and the coming down of another; we move toward God, and then God moves toward us. The Old Testament is humanity’s search for God, the New Testament is God’s search for us.  This is true in general but not entirely true, for there would have been no search for God in the Old Testament (and in the various religions) had God not inspired and initiated that search.  So when men and women began to seek, they had in a sense found him. But God was in the very search for Himself – its author and hence its finisher.

Impossible?  To good to be true?  Not if we study the nature of life.  Life not only wants more life, but it wants to impart life. The creative urge is within it.  God, being the perfect life, would of the very necessities of His being desire to impart, to share, to create.

Hence the divine Initiative.  We are religious because we long and because he loves.  He creates, we crave.

December 27, 2012

G. K. Chesterton Quotations

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“Christianity is at one with common sense; but all religious history shows that this common sense perishes except where there is Christianity to preserve it.”

From Wikipedia:

G. K. ChestertonGilbert Keith Chesterton,  was an English writer.   He wrote on philosophy, ontology, poetry, plays, journalism, public lectures and debates, literary and art criticism, biography, Christian apologetics, and fiction, including fantasy and detective fiction.   Chesterton is well known for his reasoned apologetics, and even some of those who disagree with him have recognized the universal appeal of such works as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays.  The Everlasting Man contributed to C. S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity.

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.”

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”

A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, Do it again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough… It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

“According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it.”

“The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.”

“…The obstinate reminder continues to recur: only the supernaturalist has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a stepmother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”

QuotationsPage, Think Exist, Chesterton Society, Wisdom Quotes, Daily Christian QuoteFootnote Generator, Qwerky Quotes

Today’s text:

(NLT) Ps. 24: 1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
    The world and all its people belong to him.
For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas
    and built it on the ocean depths.

Who may climb the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?

 

 

November 24, 2012

Grace Quotations

“…Jesus’ approach toward a decadent Roman empire, as well as toward individual sinners who must have offended him deeply, seemed almost the opposite of the self-righteous attitude of many evangelicals.  As I studied Jesus’ life, the notion of grace kept hitting me in the face.  All his stories made the wrong person the hero: the prodigal son not the responsible older brother, Lazarus not the rich man, the good Samaritan not the Jewish rabbi.  And I began to see grace as one of the great, often untapped, powers of the universe that God has asked us to set loose.  Human society runs by Ungrace, ranking people, holding them accountable, insisting on reciprocity and fairness.  Grace is, by definition, unfair.  That intrigued me.”

~Philip Yancey


“Most every cult you could name is a cult of salvation by works. It appeals to the flesh. It tells you, if you will stand so long on a street corner, if you will distribute so much literature, if you will sacrifice so much of life, if you will be baptized, if you will contribute your money, if you will pray or attend numerous meetings, then your good works and hard effort will cause God to smile on you. Ultimately when the good is weighed against the bad on the Day of Judgement, you will finally earn His favor. The result in that, I say again, is man’s glory, because you added to your salvation.

“Grace says you have nothing to give, nothing to earn, nothing to pay. You couldn’t if you tried! Salvation is a free gift. You simply lay hold of what Christ has provided. Period. And yet the heretical doctrine of works goes on all around the world and always will. It is effective because the pride of men and women is so strong. We simply have to do something in order to feel right about it. It just doesn’t make good humanistic sense to get something valuable for nothing.

“Please allow me to be absolutely straight with you: Stop tolerating the heretical gospel of works! It is legalism. Wake up to the fact that it will put you into a bondage syndrome that won’t end. The true gospel of grace, however, will set you free. Free forever.”

~Charles (Chuck) Swindoll


“You are loved by your Maker not because you try to please him and succeed, or fail to please him and apologize, but because he wants to be your Father. Nothing more. All your efforts to win his affection are unnecessary. All your fears of losing his affection are needless. You can no more make him want you than you can convince him to abandon you. The adoption is irreversible. You have a place at his table.”

~Max Lucado


“Romans 8 is all about living in a suffering world marked by brokenness… Verse 28 says: For those loving him, God works together all things for good. …Earlier in Romans 8, Paul discusses how things fall apart because the world is burdened with evil and sin. Things are subject to decay. Everyone will eventually experience the decay of their bodies; that’s the nature of things. The little grains of sand on the beach used to be a mountain. Everything falls apart; things do not come together. This verse tells Christians to get rid of the saccharine, sentimental idea that things ought to go right, that things do go right, and that it’s normal for things to go right. Modern, Western people believe that if things go wrong, we should sue, because things ought to go right. But Christians have to discard that idea completely. Christians have to recognize that if our health remains intact, it is simply because God is holding it up. If people love us, if someone is there to hug us or squeeze our hand, if someone loves us in spite of all our flaws—if someone loves us at all—it’s because God is bringing all things together. God is holding it up. Everything that goes well is a miracle of grace.”

~Timothy Keller


“I don’t think we should avoid reading the Noah narrative to our children. They need to hear of God’s global judgment, of his grace not only to Noah but to the animals and the creation itself, and of his covenant promise never to flood the earth with water again. But we should never sentimentalize this terrifying moment in our history. Instead we must point our little ones to the fulfillment of the rainbow: Jesus of Nazareth.

“The apostle Peter makes much of the Flood, pointing to it as a type of the last days cosmic judgment of the universe (2 Pet 3). He also speaks of baptism as corresponding to the deliverance of Noah (1 Pet 3:18-22), representing God’s faithfulness to bring a righteous Man through the flood of his wrath and into a new creation. One cannot emphasize this without emphasizing both God’s amazing grace and his terrible justice. Maybe that’s why we trivialize baptism too.”

~Russell D. Moore


“Martyn Lloyd-Jones states that preaching grace is not only risky, but the fact that some take it to an unwise extreme is proof that a minister is indeed preaching the true grace of God. Some people will take advantage of it. They will misrepresent it. They will go to such an extreme that they will promote the erroneous idea that you can go on sinning as much as you like. If you claim to be a messenger of grace, if you think you are really preaching grace, yet no one is taking advantage of it, maybe you haven’t preached it hard enough or strong enough. I can assure you of this: Grace killing ministers will never have that charge brought against them. They make sure of that! This issue of grace is indeed controversial. It brings grace abusers as well as grace killers out from under the rocks!”

~Charles (Chuck) Swindoll


“The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”

~Philip Yancey


‘He’s prone to stoop. He stooped to wash feet, to embrace children. Stooped to pull Peter out of the sea, to pray in the Garden. He stooped before the Roman whipping post. Stooped to carry the cross. Grace is a God who stoops. Here he stooped to write in the dust.’

~Max Lucado


More grace quotations

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